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The Virus Chronicles – Insomnia

The Virus Chronicles – Insomnia

Insomnia and late night TV lead to some interesting revelations about a notorious Aussie football legend.

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Photo by Chanel 7

April 11, 2020

I try to keep to my 9 to 5 routine, but today things have got the better of me. I woke up at 4am, showered at lunchtime and now, I’m awake at midnight.

Not being able to get back to sleep, I go into the kitchen to make a cup of herbal tea. My son is up watching a documentary about former football star, Ben Cousins, and invites me to join him. I have no interest in sports but when your 20-something son wants you to hang out you take the opportunity. You never know when it might happen again.

My son is sports mad and growing up, he and his mates idolised Ben Cousins, arguably the best player of his day. But all I remember about him was getting arrested for taking drugs. I remember seeing him on the news, handcuffed and shirtless, being forced into a police car.

I could never reconcile in my mind the idea that someone in peak athletic form could be a drug addict. Ben Cousins’s body was superbly muscular and his skin glowed with good health.

“How could he be a drug addict?” I say. “Don’t drugs destroy your body?

“He trained really hard,” my son explains.

But I still don’t get it.

We watch the two-part series Such is Life: The Troubled Times of Ben Cousins. The introduction shows a fresh-faced Ben Cousins warning of the dangers of drug addiction. Staring straight into the camera, he is a talking head reading off an autocue. His warnings about drugs are empty, because he seems to be having the time of his life while his family are distraught with worry.

The psychologist interviewed for this film says that Ben’s adult life had only been about “receiving and not giving.”

“No wonder he’s a narcissistic prick,” I tell my son. “He doesn’t know any better.”

The second documentary, Coming Clean, is hard to watch. Filmed ten years later in 2020, Ben has changed a lot. He no longer looks like a little boy. His face is weathered and there are patches of grey in his shaggy beard. A plain white t-shirt replaces the immaculate dress shirt and dove grey blazer he wore in the earlier film.

But the most striking change is in his demeanour. The smart arse, rapid fire answers have been replaced by long pauses of introspection, where he struggles to find his words and evade the interviewer’s confronting questions. And they are confronting.

Ben’s life has not been easy in the ten years since the first documentary was filmed. He has become estranged from his family, lives “between joints” and has spent time in prison.

Ben made a go of it in prison, getting a job in the cleaning party, responsible for the prison maintenance. Getting a job in prison is not easy, and not everyone does. And Ben says with a smile that it is work he thinks he could do on the outside.

“So, from Brownlow to garbo, inside a jail,” says interviewer, Basil Zempilas. Zempilas then goes on to quote the Cold Play lyrics: “I used to rule the world, and now I sweep the streets I used to own.”

“That interviewer’s a bastard,” says my son.

And I am inclined to agree.

Zempilas brings up some deeply personal issues, making Ben look most uncomfortable, even pained. Like the near naked selfie that became public. The interviewer asks Ben why he took the photo in the first place.

“Trying to get a root,” Ben responds with his characteristic cheekiness.

“And did it have the desired effect?”

Ben looks uncomfortable. “No, it didn’t.”

Next, Zempilas reads the letter Ben wrote to actress, Lynne McGranger of TV Soap, Home and Away. The private letter is heartfelt and respectful. Grainger expresses surprise that he wrote to her and she reads it on air. She supposes he reached out because of the character she plays, a former addict who takes in young people struggling with addiction.

She wishes him all the best with his recovery and points him in the direction of his higher power.

Zempilas takes Ben to task about the trouble he has caused the AFL by “bringing the game of football into disrepute.” Chastened, Ben is apologetic, but in an earlier interview he says the AFL wouldn’t care if he was hanging from the beams in the roof.

Young footballers devote themselves to serving an apprenticeship that they cannot take with them into later life, after the game is over. Like modern day gladiators, they put their bodies on the line for the sake of public entertainment and when they are too old and broken to amuse us, we throw them on the scrap heap.

Throughout the film, Ben says he wants to be normal and that he would love to be living a traditional, family life. But after the life he has lived, how can that be possible?

The AFL have turned their back on the problem child that they have created and turned him out into a world for which he is in no way prepared.

The documentary finishes and my son goes out into the cold night air. He sits at the far corner of the outdoor table and the red tip of his cigarette glows in the darkness. I don’t like him smoking but I tell myself it could be worse.

I got both my sons into every sport going when they were young. Football, cricket, basketball. I thought all that running around would use up their energy and keep them out of trouble.

But Ben Cousin’s has shown the flaw in my thinking.

I say goodnight to my son and head off to bed.

But I don’t know if I will sleep tonight.

Coming Clean by Chanel 7

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Virus Chronicles, 2 comments
The Upside of Quarantine: How COVID-19 is Making me a Better Writer

The Upside of Quarantine: How COVID-19 is Making me a Better Writer

Having the time to write is an absolute gift for a working writer.

The dishes are done. The washing’s on the line. The homemade soup is simmering on the stove and it’s only 8.13am.

Usually by now, I would be in peak hour traffic. The dishes would be scattered on the kitchen bench, the washing would still be in the machine and homemade soup not even a thought in my mind.

But things are different now. I am quarantined because of COVID-19 and I have nothing but time.

Things have snowballed since last week, when my husband and I returned early from our ill fated trip. We set off for Japan at the time when things were iffy but more or less OK and were called home early with a dire DFAT warning.

We are required to spend fourteen days at home in isolation.

Disappointed but relieved to be back home, I am going to make the most of my time. As a writer with a full time office job, time is an absolute gift.

They say that it’s possible to write and hold down a full time job and many people do but having time and energy to devote to writing makes such a difference. I know I have achieved things in the last week that I could never have done if I had been working.

I have participated in online events during the day, like the live video critique I attended yesterday. I’ve submitted the first chapter of my novel to be critiqued by the group so it’s my turn next week. I joined in a Twitter event I usually miss and was able to follow it as it was happening and take my time to linger over the responses. I check in regularly with a Facebook writers group I’m in, where we support and encourage each. I joined a fun video catch up with some writer friends.

I’m having a go at writing short stories. Short stories are not my thing but I have a couple in the works so I’ll see how I go. I am beta reading an exciting new novel for a critique partner, one that will put me in the right frame of mind for my second novel.

Finally, I am working with my critique group on the final round of edits to my first novel. With a full time job, this project is usually the only thing I have the time and energy to do.

I know there’s a lot going on at the moment and I’ve probably got my head in the sand. But having our heads in the sand is probably the best thing to do if it means we are keeping away from other people.

Before I left for Japan, I resigned from my job and signed up with a temp agency. There is always plenty of temp work in my industry but I don’t know how I’ll go now that everything’s changed.

In the meantime, I choose to live one day at a time. I’m enjoying spending time with my family, writing and engaging with other writers.

I’m in forced quarantine for another week and there’s nothing I can do about it. This gives me the excuse not to make decisions, not to go to work, not to face the outside world.

I know I’m in a state of suspended disbelief and that reality is probably going to hit like a freight train.

But for now, I’m on holiday and I’m going to enjoy every minute.

#amwriting #writerslilfe #writingcommunity #writersinquarantine #6amAusWriters

Posted by naomilisashippen in The Virus Chronicles, 7 comments
Deep Point of View Versus Writing with Detachment

Deep Point of View Versus Writing with Detachment

Is Showing Emotion in Fiction Always Necessary? Sometimes the facts speak for themselves.

There is a strong trend at the moment towards deep point of view and taking the reader inside the world of the protagonist.  The idea is to describe everything the protagonist is feeling and to immerse the reader so deeply it is as though they are within the protagonist’s skin.

It is an intimate, visceral experience for the reader with the intention of drawing them into the story.

With deep point of view, there are no assumptions. That’s because different characters react to events differently and as writers, we need to show those reactions.

In my own writing, the recurring feedback was that I did not show enough of my protagonist’s emotions. Rather than simply telling them that Helen lost her home to financial trouble, missed out on her dream job and was cheated in business by someone she trusted, my readers wanted to know how she felt about these events.

I took their advice on board and showed Helen agonizing over what to take to her new home and what to leave behind, forcing a smile on her face when she met the woman who took her job and the wave of coldness washing over her when she realized she had been cheated by someone she trusted.

These were Helen’s reactions and they were particular to her, but a more highly strung character might have reacted differently. Helen is a measured, reserved character, but someone hot tempered may have thrown everything into a skip, turned her back on the woman who took her job and confronted the person who cheated her in business.

I am glad that I took the advice of my beta readers and I believe my novel is better for it. But having said that, there is also a strong case for writing with detachment; of reporting events as they happen and leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions about how the protagonist is feeling.

In cases of writing about serious trauma, writing with detachment can be very effective. Sometimes, people in these situations are so overwhelmed that they shut down. Unable to process their emotions, they become detached observers to the events around them.

In her memoir, Beginnings, author Millie Bayliss states simply My sister died the next year. This statement sits starkly between two paragraphs describing her blissfully writing songs and poetry as a child.

The sentence is jarring and out of place, like the death of her sister must have been to young Millie. There are no racing hearts, sweaty palms or floods of tears, but she gets her point across; her sister’s death was devastating.

So while I am a fan of deep point of view and showing a character’s reaction in motion, sometimes a simple statement of fact can leave a powerful impact on the reader.


Beginnings by Millie Bayliss, The Victorian Writer, December 2019 – January 2020

Posted by naomilisashippen in About Writing, 8 comments